Summertime is already synonymous with fresh corn, and in recent years, the second half of the summer has become prime time for exceptionally sweet, juicy corn from, of all places, Colorado. Like Hatch chiles from New Mexico, Olathe corn has put the small town where it’s grown on the culinary map.
Olathe corn hit local grocery stores last week; like many regional specialties, the first part of the harvest stayed close to home, and then out of state shipping began on July 16. It is currently available at several of the major grocery chains, but is usually only there until around Labor Day. It’s easy to spot because the ears are relatively slim, and the ears all feature both yellow and white kernels. Look for ears that are still cool, evidence that the corn has been kept chilled since harvest to preserve its texture and sweetness.
Colorado isn’t a major corn producer, but the Western Slope region, just beyond the west-facing side of the Rocky Mountains, has the perfect mix of hot summer days and cooler nights for developing the sugar in Olathe corn. The corn is so tender that it has to be picked by hand instead of with a combine.
There are several ways to cook corn on the cob. For cooking just a few ears, microwaving it still in the husk is easy, quick, and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Keeping the husk on helps the corn to steam and stay juicy. Cooking one ear on high for four minutes, or two ears for eight minutes, yields perfectly cooked corn.
For a bigger batch, dropping shucked ears into boiling water produces tender corn in five to seven minutes. Beware of overcooking, which can bring out the starchiness instead of the sugar.
A medium-sized batch can also be grilled, though there are a few extra steps involved. Corn should be grilled in the husk, and to keep the husks from catching fire, it’s necessary to soak the ears for ten minutes while the grill is heating. It takes about fifteen minutes to fully cook an ear of corn on the grill, turning it several times for more even cooking.
For a large group or picnic, “cooler corn” cooks several dozen ears at once. The technique starts with filling a very clean cooler with shucked ears of corn. Then, cover the corn with boiling water (make sure the drain hole is closed), close the lid tight and let the corn cook for half an hour. Once the corn is cooked, the hot water is carefully drained out, and the corn is ready to eat. At this point it can also be transported, and will stay hot in the cooler for at least an hour.
Beyond the basic corn on the cob, corn dishes are part of many food cultures, including South Asian, Native American and Mediterranean. Corn can even make its way into breakfast pancakes to be made sweeter with maple syrup, though that same corn pancake batter can be used to make smaller, finger-food sized pancakes that can be paired with salsa or other savory toppings.